Consultants predict Lawrence district’s enrollment will fall by 300 in next 5 years; committee discussing potential school closures, other cuts

The Futures Planning Committee meets at district offices on Nov. 30, 2022.

Consultants hired by the Lawrence school district are projecting enrollment will decline by about 300 students over the next five years, and members of a committee tasked with making budget recommendations were asked to consider potential school closures.

The Futures Planning Committee received some of the enrollment projections as part of a meeting Wednesday evening at district offices. The district hired RSP & Associates to create five-year enrollment projections, a building master plan, and facilitate the committee as it drafts budget and potential school closure recommendations for the school board. Robert Schwarz, of RSP & Associates, told the committee that the enrollment projections added to the district’s current budget challenges.

“The potential for there to be fewer students just exacerbates where we are today,” Schwarz said.

Though RSP considered the anticipated population growth related to the new Panasonic battery plant, consultants did not project that the growth would make a large impact in the five-year time period under consideration. To plan for anticipated increasing costs and declining enrollment, the committee was asked to consider various budget reductions, including closure of elementary schools, closure of a middle school, and staffing and program reductions.

photo by: USD 497

A graph created by RSP & Associates shows past and projected enrollment in the Lawrence school district.

More specifically, RSP projects that the overall enrollment in the district will decrease by 318 students, to about 9,570 students, by the 2027-28 school year, or by about 3.3%. Elementary enrollment is forecast to decrease by 24 students over the next five years (-0.5%), middle school enrollment by 128 students (-5.9%), and high school enrollment by 166 students (-5%). As far as anticipated development in Lawrence, the projections identified an additional 1,800 potential housing units in the next 10 years, but the report states the majority of the units are anticipated in the five- to 10-year range, “which is a limiting factor in immediate enrollment growth.” The analysis also considered birth rates and student migration trends (students leaving/entering the district), which have been negative for the past two years.

Panasonic plans to build a $4 billion battery plant for electric vehicles in nearby De Soto. The plant is currently under construction and expected to begin producing batteries in early 2025. It’s anticipated the plant will employ 4,000 people and be a catalyst for the whole region due to the suppliers and other local businesses needed, which are expected to create up to 4,000 additional jobs. Cities throughout the area are anticipating population growth as a result of the plant.

photo by: USD 497

A graphic created by RSP & Associates shows anticipated development in the Lawrence school district.

photo by: USD 497

A graph created by RSP & Associates shows past and projected births the Lawrence school district.

As part of the meeting, the committee was broken into small groups, which were given cards with potential budget reductions spanning three categories: staffing, programs and school buildings.

The options included reducing district administration (estimated cost savings of $127,662); repurposing/consolidating two elementary schools (estimated cost savings of $600,000 to $800,000); repurposing/consolidating one middle school (estimated cost savings of $550,000 to $650,000); reducing building administration (estimated cost savings of $113,455); finding savings in changes to the school calendar (estimated cost savings of $700,000); reducing elementary, middle and high school staff (estimated cost savings of $65,000 per teacher); revising the staff leave policy (estimated cost savings of $1.6 million); reducing middle school plan time (maximum estimated cost savings of $1.3 million); and reducing elective class offerings (estimated cost savings of $65,000 per teacher), among other options. The cards noted that some of the potential staff-related reductions would have to be negotiated with teacher and staff unions.

Each group was asked to select the budget cuts they would support and arrange them into three phases, the first of which would occur within one to three years, the second within four to six years, and the third within seven to 10 years. The groups were then asked to total the reductions for each phase.

The district previously provided three financial priorities to the committee, the anticipated cost of addressing each priority and the time frame for making those investments. The first priority is to provide competitive wages for staff, which the district estimates will require $9 million over a one- to two-year time frame. The district’s second financial priority is to allocate funds for annual cost increases, such as property and liability insurance premiums, health insurance premiums and utilities, which the district estimates will require about $1 million annually. The third is to increase the district’s cash reserve balances, which the district estimates will require about $6.2 million over a 10-year time frame. RSP previously had committee members indicate their support for the district priorities, and the third had the least support.

Once complete, the committee’s recommendation will go to the school board, which makes the ultimate decisions. The school board recently agreed that all three of the priorities identified by the district should be addressed to some degree by the budget recommendation, but said that the direction from the committee could be more flexible, potentially providing a range for the amount that should be invested toward each priority and a phased plan for implementation. Board members also agreed there should be more information about how the district arrived at the dollar amounts.

Meeting materials for Wednesday also looked at the district’s expenditures over the past five years, specifically total expenditures, the cost per pupil and core instruction expenditures. Total expenditures in the district have increased in the past five years from $146 million to $161 million, according to the meeting packet. The cost per pupil has increased from $10,500 to $13,800 in that time period. Core instruction expenditure contributed to 50% to 53% of total expenditures in that time.

Schwarz told the committee that the consultants would work with district administration to use the results of the activity to come up with budget reduction options that would be further discussed at the committee’s next meeting on Dec. 14.


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